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Drafting Ultra-Orthodox Is No Solution

Underlying the heated controversy over the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men is a far more fateful question — that of their integration into the work force, writes Idan Grinbaum.
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men sign documents at the offices of Israel's Administration for National Civil Service in Jerusalem January 6, 2013. For the first time since the August 1 expiration of the so-called Tal Law that exempted ultra-Orthodox seminary students from military conscription, dozens of scholars signed up on Sunday for alternative civilian service which, upon completion, will entitle them to avoid the draft. Some 1,300 seminary students are slated to join the program by August 2013, or until Isra
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It’s over a week now that Israel’s Prime Minister-elect (as well as outgoing Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu has been breaking his head trying to find an answer, along with his senior advisers, to the question that is on the mind of so many Israelis these days: Will they or won’t they enlist in the army? Needless to say that “they” are the thousands of ultra-Orthodox men who, for more than 60 years, have been exempted from equal sharing of the military service burden according to the principle of Torato Omanuto  that Torah study is their full-time occupation. The equal sharing of the burden is the slogan that has turned out to be the trump card of the recent election. However, it seems that underlying the heated — and at times, even fiery — controversy over the issue of the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is a no less, and perhaps even far more fateful question — that of the integration of the ultra-Orthodox in the workforce in Israel.

The questions whether the IDF is really interested in recruiting thousands of ultra-Orthodox men and, supposing that it actually has any need for all those draft eligible ultra-Orthodox, whether it can cope with their en masse recruitment, have already been discussed at length on this website. It should be noted, however, in this context that in view of the deep budget deficit, which calls for the reduction of the government expenditure, the defense budget is bound to be once again at the focus of the budget debate, and rightly so.

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